Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Spence-Garcia Preview: The Elephant

When Errol Spence Jr. (26-0, 21 KOs) was ejected from his Ferrari in Dallas last October, a pall was cast over the boxing industry. One of the best boxers of his era was fighting for his life. We had seen this story before, notably with the great Salvador Sanchez, who had been cut down at his absolute apex in a car crash. In more recent times, Diego Corrales lost his life in a motorcycle accident.

In a video that quickly made the rounds online, Spence's crash was catastrophic. His car instantly transformed into a blazing heap of scrap metal. He was thrown from his vehicle at an enormous rate of speed. Would he survive? 

Although early reports revealed a missing tooth, minor burns and internal bruising, it would have surprised no one if his condition worsened. And even as he recovered physically, if an announcement was made that his days in boxing were finished, all who watched the crash video would have understood.

Spence (left) and Garcia (right)
Photo Courtesy of Ryan Hafey

A little over a year later, Spence, a unified welterweight champion, will enter the ring for the first time since the accident. And in a further surprise, he will be taking on Danny Garcia (36-2, 21 KOs), a former champion and a top fighter at 147 lbs. They will meet on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. 

Any analysis of this fight must start with the elephant in the room: we don't know how Spence will be affected from his traumatic accident. He has spoken of a new lease on life, but does that carry over to boxing? Does he still take shots the same way? Will his body recover in the ring as it has in the past? Does he still possess the desire or willingness to go to dark places to pull out a win, as he did in his last fight against Shawn Porter? 

The confluence of mind, body and soul is individualistic by nature. No one knows how one will respond to trauma. And even if Spence has made a full recovery physically, can he still prosper at the upper echelon of professional boxing, which features a constant reminder of flesh being pounded and pain?  

How Spence-Garcia will manifest is essentially conjecture on top of conjecture. The fight would be intriguing enough without the car crash. Garcia's noted counters would still have an opportunity to land against the best version of Spence, who at times can get a little too comfortable in the pocket. But now, with the events of last year, how Spence takes blows in the ring becomes the ultimate wild card. 

In a vacuum, without consideration of the accident, Spence would have multiple ways of winning the fight. He probably is better than Garcia both on the outside and in close. He's busier than Garcia. He's also more physical in close quarters. We've also seen Spence box masterfully against Mikey Garcia in 2019, where he used his legs and range to keep Mikey at bay over 12 rounds. That type of performance would be difficult for Danny to beat.

Danny Garcia is a fighter who has only two official losses, but examining his career closely, that number could easily be four or five. One of his essential problems is that he never puts 12 solid rounds together against top opposition. He works at his own pace, often to his detriment. He has started fast and faded (against Lamont Peterson and Zab Judah), and slowly but then came on as the fight progressed (vs. Keith Thurman and Lucas Matthysse). In either scenario, his same issue remains: lulls in activity. This leads to fights that are often very close on the scorecards.

He has other problems as well. Having slow feet, he can't chase fighters around the ring; he struggles with quick movement. Garcia also falls into classic counterpuncher traps, where he waits too long to land a shot as his opponent remains busy.   

Despite his limitations, Danny is a technically gifted puncher. He throws every punch in the book and his accuracy and punch placement can be sublime. In addition, he's so relaxed in the ring that he can execute under extreme duress. An opponent's incoming fire rarely rattles him; he sees that as an opportunity to land. His confidence in his chin and his clarity of thought when facing pressure allow him to stay in the pocket. Where other fighters might run, he can find a solution to a pressing problem. 

Furthermore, he can be a creative puncher. In addition to his textbook punches, he also features a fair amount of improvisation in the ring. He can throw a tight left hook, but perhaps his money shot is a long, looping left hook that few fighters throw anymore, and very few opponents can defend successfully. I remember watching him in the early rounds against Zab Judah in 2013, where he landed a stunning variety of right hands, including straight shots, hooks, looping blows and overhand punches. 

For Garcia to win Saturday's fight, at a minimum he's going to have to get Spence on the canvas. If he's not going to put 12 great rounds together, than he'll have to make the ones where he has success really count. Spence's volume will always be a problem and it's not as if Errol is just throwing jabs; he features a variety of eye-catching power shots and combinations. But there will be opportunities for Garcia to land, especially when Spence is coming in and leaving the pocket. 

Garcia should use his blueprint from the Zab Judah fight and attack early. In that bout, Garcia did enough damage in the first eight rounds, that Judah's subsequent comeback in the last third of the bout wasn't enough to matter on the cards. Furthermore, it would behoove Garcia to show a little more urgency than some of his more recent outings. If he can hurt Spence, then he needs to get Errol on the canvas. Saturday's fight for Garcia shouldn't necessarily be about winning 10-9 rounds, but making the most of his moments, leading to knockdowns or a potential stoppage. If he can get Spence on the floor, he won't need to win as many rounds to get the victory. It's unlikely that he will win eight rounds against Spence, but he could win five or six; knockdowns would help considerably.  

It will be fascinating to see how Spence intends to fight Garcia. In most of his bouts, he has been a come-forward aggressor who loves to bang away at the body in close range and throw multi-punch combinations. However, as he has matured, he has featured additional nuances in his game. As previously mentioned, he was masterful in circling against Mikey Garcia last year and limiting Mikey's opportunities. He also spent a fair amount of time as a counterpuncher against Shawn Porter. And although he escaped that fight with a win, it was not a comfortable night's work. He had to sweat that one out on the cards, ultimately winning by split decision. 

The Porter fight should be a warning sign for Spence and his trainer Derrick James. That was the one fight where Spence may have gotten his tactics wrong. Instead of relying on his boxing skills, Spence was content to slug it out with the hard-charging Porter. And Spence had never been hit so much in his career. There was a stubbornness about Errol that night. Despite taking a lot of incoming fire, he was determined to beat Porter at Porter's game. Even though Spence could have used his legs to box and move, or tie up on the inside, he insisted on going mano a mano. That he won was almost incidental. He very well could have been on the short end of that fight, with himself to blame for some poor strategic and tactical decisions. 

It's important for Spence to realize that having success against Danny Garcia in the pocket may be fool's gold. Danny would be happy to eat two to land one at mid-range. Danny won't be there to win the fight via CompuBox or punches thrown; for him it will be based on hard connects. Limiting Danny's offense, either by fighting on the inside or at distance will be vital for Spence. 

Ultimately, Saturday may very well come down to where we started: is it the same Spence in the ring? If so, he should have enough offensive attributes to get the job done. But if there is slippage, either physically or psychologically, then Danny will have a real chance of winning. Spence needs to use his brains over his brawn. A tactical fight will favor him; a firefight will even the playing field. Spence has demonstrated his high Ring IQ in the past, and Saturday's fight would be a wonderful time to let his considerable ring smarts shine. However, if he insists on a dogfight, there are no guarantees, not after what he has endured.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

No comments:

Post a Comment